Christ is always coming toward us as a stranger. Soon, we’ll read post-resurrection texts and included in those will be a passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus stands upon the shore, peering out to the lake where his disciples –soon to be apostles—are fishing as some kind of cathartic exercise in response to despair. They will see a figure on the shore but he is shrouded by fog and distance, unrecognizable until that distance is closed by their urgent race to the shore. They leave their boats again to run to him because while they cannot see him, they can hear him.
John’s Gospel begins by saying that Christ came into the world and the world, though made by him, did not know him. He came as a stranger. He was perceived as a stranger both by his own family and neighbors and the Romans who killed him. Christ is always coming toward us as a stranger.
That truth is likely why we end up with the admonishment from scripture to “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” since you might unaware end up entertaining angels …or the Christ. Certainly we see this in the famous story in Luke’s Gospel about two disciples on the road to Emmaus who have no idea that the person journeying with them is the Risen Christ. He remained a stranger to them for their entire journey until at table, he blessed bread and then their eyes were opened. That is, they recognized him.
Once you are recognized or known, you are a stranger no longer. This should be the point, or at least a point, in any religious response to the world and its residents: close the distance, recognize one another as brothers and sisters. The stranger who arrives in your midst may be the Christ coming toward you. You should treat him or her as such. Yet the early Church lived as strangers in the world—perhaps this is why the Gospels depict Jesus as a stranger and why the scriptures encourage kindness toward the stranger. Hebrews 11 says that these people of faith “confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth..” That word “foreigner” gets variously translated as “alien” and “exile.” But it has the sense of illegal aliens, persons who arrived in a foreign country and sojourned there.
Many Christians –not all of course—feel especially alienated in the United States at this moment in history. The Senate is about to have its remaining leg of bipartisanship removed by a man who single-handedly obstructed the Constitution and stole a Supreme Court seat; the Attorney General is about to roll back civil rights by obstructing reform of police departments across the country, this despite the fact that extrajudicial killings of African-Americans is a travesty in this nation and Gov Scott of Florida is reprising the role of Pontius Pilate with a vengeance; laws to protect the water and air are being rolled back despite the facts of and danger of climate change and a renewed effort to deny healthcare to the elderly and poor and sick is under way. For Christians who believe in the Prince of Peace, who extol justice and protection of the stranger and immigrants, who believe the bible teaches stewardship of the earth and “creation care,” who know that the stranger Christ was brought into line by the police and soldiers of Pilate, this is madness that resembles the horrifying world of early Christianity. Christ is a stranger in the United States.
My encouragement to you as we move toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week is to recall what Jesus told his disciples, “In the world you have tribulation but take courage. I have overcome the world.” This Sunday, close the distance and cross the threshold of recognition so that we may no longer be strangers to one another and so in the coming days, we might work together to shelter as many as we can from the coming storm. ~ See you Sunday.